By Linda Hunter
When you look at our beautiful San Francisco Bay, what do you see? Sailboats, wind surfers, a raft of surf scoters and cormorants diving for herring? Ever wonder what’s going on under the water? Many people have made that curiosity their life’s work. Fresh off the presses, the Subtidal Goals Project released a report that outlines a vision for the ecosystems underneath our San Francisco Bay waters for the next 50 years.
A mammoth project that stemmed from a unique partnership between the California Coastal Commission and Ocean Protection Council, NOAA National Marine Fisheries service, San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission and the San Francisco Estuary Partnership, the project brought together scientists, restoration proponents, nonprofits and the general public to identify important conservation questions and to provide conservation planning for the submerged areas of the Bay.
These habitats include soft substrate such as sand or mud, rock, artificial structures, shellfish beds, submerged aquatic vegetation and macroalgal beds (think seaweed). The report sets lofty goals to protect, restore and integrate our subtidal ecosystems with other habitats such as rocky intertidal and marsh zones. The report is comprehensive and can be read on the Subtidal Habitat Goals Project website.
The Watershed Project is delighted that the report devotes an entire chapter to shellfish beds, a comprehensive analysis of their abundance in the Bay, and the nascent efforts to create artificial oyster reefs to increase their population. These efforts include The Watershed Project’s own community-based oyster monitoring initiatives.
According to the Subtidal Goals Report, shellfish beds support ecosystem services and oysters are considered a “foundation species or ecosystem engineers, altering their environment by increasing bottom roughness, reducing current speeds, and, as a result, trapping sediments.” Oyster beds can increase the diversity of other fish and invertebrates by making the ecosystem more complex, less homogeneous and definitely more interesting.
The specific goals recommended by the Subtidal Report for oysters are:
1. Understand the ecosystem services the shellfish beds support, and in what quantities, in their current state and after restoration.
2. Understand the factors controlling the development and persistence of oyster and other shellfish beds.
3. Develop the most effective ways of restoring and protecting oyster beds.
4. Protect San Francisco Bay native shellfish habitats (particularly native oysters) through no net loss to existing habitat.
5. Protect areas in San Francisco Bay with potential shellfish expansion, restoration and creation.
The Watershed Project enthusiastically supports these goals and the recommendations of the report that call for broad community stewardship of the native oysters through educational signage and partnerships. We’re proud of our Living Shoreline Initiative’s goal of bringing the fascinating world of oysters to Bay Area students and volunteers.
Kudos to the Ocean Protection Council and its partners for making this bold vision for subtidal restoration, and for supporting efforts to make the general public more aware of the value of life under the Bay’s water. To get involved with The Watershed Project’s native oyster restoration program, contact Chris Lim, Living Shoreline Program Manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And, next time you’re gazing out at the Bay, consider the humble oyster, the ecosystem engineer, filtering the Bay’s water and providing critical ecosystem services to the critters under and around the water’s surface.